I had to laugh at your question, "Is it common to get two rejections?" Why? Because my first novel got 86 rejections... and that's closer to “normal”... And, it was purely an accident it was taken by the 87th. So, two rejections is... not anything at all. What's really abnormal is to get 4-5 top agents to even look at a manuscript, especially today. To even get an agent to look at it--the odds are that if a writer sent out 20 queries, she'd probably get a request for a partial would be one or two at most. Probably none for a full mss. And, chances are slim that the one or two who asked for a partial would ask for more. It's really a jungle out there. It is much easier these days with email from before when we only had snail mail and had to provide postage for a return and wait for the mails both ways, but it's still difficult. Getting four of five agents to look at a full mss and the other to ask for the first fifty pages is really incredible.
Ruth’s question was perfectly legitimate considering this was her first novel and her first foray into obtaining an agent. It also seems to reflect the mindset of many writers these days. It’s just not realistic, as she’ll find out as time goes on and she begins to see the experience of other authors. Although, she’s going to end up with an agent fairly readily and I anticipate publication of her novel and even high sales. It’s that good and it’s a timely novel for a lot of reasons. I think it will be one of those rare first novels that garners awards and enjoys handsome sales.
A scant two weeks before I sent it to UNT, the same manuscript had been selected for a small workshop led by uber-agent Mary Evans in Indianapolis. During a break in the workshop, Mary asked me to go outside with her and while I was toking on a Camel regular, she said, “This is a truly brilliant novel, but you’re having trouble selling this, aren’t you, Les?” Well, yes I was, kind of… Eighty plus rejections would make it fit that assessment… She said she’d had the same problem with her own client, Michael Chabron, with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Mary said, that what was happening with my novel was the same thing that had happened with Michael’s. Because my protagonist was a 14-year-old boy, publishers were viewing it as a YA. And, she explained, “teenaged boys are the single-worst demographic in publishing.” As a group, they simply don’t read. I protested that I’d never viewed it as a YA and offered up John Knowles A Separate Peace as an example. “That’s about a teenaged boy and nobody thinks of it as a YA,” I said.